Asian Carp Update: Part II – Short Term Actions

Last post, I promised to do a multi-part update on Asian carp, moving from recent sampling to short term actions to long term actions to threats outside the Chicago Area Waterway System.

To sum up the recent sampling results, it’s pretty clear that there are isolated Asian carp in the Chicago waterway system past the electric fence, but the fish do not appear to be present in breeding populations. Which is good news; it means we have time to get a permanent fix for this crisis.

Today’s post takes on short term actions – particularly, last month’s report from the government’s Asian carp task force.

Let’s be clear at the outset: we need to keep our eye on the ball, which is permanent separation of the Mississippi River system from Lake Michigan. And I’ll discuss that in the next post. But the recent government report, with the oh-so-interesting title of “Monitoring and Rapid Response Plan for Asian Carp on the Upper Illinois River and Chicago Area Waterway System,” (pdf) is not designed to address permanent separation; it addresses primarily the short-term actions that the agencies have been employing for several years.

Those short-term actions include:

  • upgrading the electric fence that deters carp from moving up the canals toward the lake
  • preventing carp-infested waters from flooding from the Des Plaines River into the canals
  • reducing the population pressures of Asian carp from below the electric fence (so there are fewer fish available to travel upstream toward the lake)
  • netting and commercial fishing operations
  • poisoning stretches of the canals when the monster carp appear to be present
  • testing out new methods of killing or repelling the carp
  • continuing to conduct eDNA testing for Asian carp in Chicago’s canals

Although the report doesn’t feature any groundbreaking developments, it actually does show progress for short-term activities. It’s pretty much in line with what we asked them to do in the short term when I testified before the Senate a year ago–you can read my full testimony on Asian carp here (pdf).

Discussions of hydroguns and other fanciful technologies aside, the main thrust of the monitoring and rapid response report is that:

  1. They have developed a trigger-response mechanism for making management decisions, just as we demanded that they do.
  2. The triggers include eDNA evidence, sometimes in isolation.
  3. While they don’t explicitly defend the validity of eDNA evidence as I’d like to see, they do defend it implicitly, as they are willing to take management actions based on DNA evidence alone.
  4. The availability and transparency of the eDNA evidence has improved dramatically.
  5. Their plan moving forward for sampling and rapid response looks pretty solid.

The fundamental problem with the report is the way it was marketed and covered. It is not designed to address long-term solutions; even the name of the report indicates how limited it is. The report is supposed to complement the long-term actions that the long-term plan, the Great Lakes Mississippi River Separation Study, is designed to develop, not substitute for them.

The coverage was confusing and misleading, probably not helped by news release put out by the agencies online, which implies that this report describes all the efforts of the agencies on CAWS; it never mentions long term separation.

Most importantly, the report reflects a change in attitude and action by the agencies. It shows they have are relying on the best evidence – including eDNA evidence – to make rational decisions on how to slow the continued march of Asian carp past existing barriers. If this action plan was accompanied by a timely and robust schedule for completing a permanent and effective barrier, I’d say it does the job it needs to do.

Unfortunately, the plans for the permanent barrier is woefully lacking…. And so the agencies seem to be relying on this short-term plan as a long-term solution. And that’s a recipe for disaster.

Stay tuned for next week’s post on what’s happening (or not) with the permanent barrier.

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